Vintage Views & Memories Of The Brass City














An online tour of Waterbury Connecticut and vicinity in vintage images mostly from the late 1800s to the 1970s, and some memories of life in the Brass City in the '40s and '50s, with optional side tours of Waterbury theaters and radio stations, the Great Flood of 1955 in Waterbury and Naugatuck, the Chief Two Moon Laboratory, many Waterbury neighborhoods, Holy Land USA, the Howard Johnson's Restaurant, and some Waterbury high school class websites. 




Vintage photos, ads, and articles from the Brass City Past-Blast included at no additional cost. 
















You can post your comments about the tour to the Guestbook or send your memories of the Brass City in the '40s and/or '50s to me at the end of the tour.



free hit countertravelers have taken the tour since our first flight on 2/10/05
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This website was awarded the key to the city by the appreciative town fathers in 2006. The key is brass, of course, which means that it too will probably corrode like the city did. 



Back in 1674 in Mattatuck on the Naugatuck shore
Pioneers from Farmington settled the land that I lived on
They cut the trees and plowed the grass
And started a city built on brass

Trucks and trains crossed rollin' hills
Rollin' to our rollin' mills

Yankee ingenuity we had our share
Scovill, Leavenworth, and Red Fox beer
Alcort made Sunfish and Sailfish of fiberglass
Waterbury industry was more than just brass


My city was often hit by flood
Streets were often filled with mud
Tornado blasts and hurricanes
Shattered lots of windowpanes
We swore we prayed we swept the glass
We swore we’d make it through with class

My city likes a good election
Especially primary type selection
Sedate elections are not our style
Our politicians like to go the extra mile
Republican or Democrat, lad or lass
Even Anaconda never had their brass

And the sun still rises
And the city decays
And if you listen real real hard you can hear the sounds of your dreams
As they're running away

(Lyrics by Roy O'Neil and Al Ouimet from their American Brass CD)



A gritty industrial city of approximately 100,000, situated at the confluence of the Naugatuck and Mad Rivers in central Connecticut, Waterbury had been the center of the American brass industry since the early 19th century. By the early 1900s, more than a third of the brass manufactured in the United States was made in the Naugatuck Valley, and Waterbury came to be known as the “Brass City.” Its skilled workers turned out screws, washers and buttons; showerheads and alarm clocks; toy airplanes and lipstick holders; and cocktail shakers. 

The 1917 Automobile Blue Book described Waterbury this way: Settled 1664; now known as the "Brass City" as it is the center of the brass industry in Connecticut. It is said that Waterbury has "Something on Everybody," because on every person who wears clothing is some button, hook, fastener, or attachment manufactured in Waterbury. The Mattatuck Historical Building has collections of articles illustrating the early history of Connecticut. There is a fine City Hall of Georgian architecture. The Silas Bronson Library is endowed by the New York business men of Waterbury. The site where Rochambeau and his French forces encamped is marked by a monument. Button making was established there in 1850 by Joseph Hopkins. The town presented Lafayette (1824) with a set of gold buttons. During the Civil War most of the brass buttons used on Federal uniforms were made in Waterbury. It has the largest button industry and the largest clock factories in the world. The cheap watch made Waterbury famous. The New England Watch Company turns out 600,000 watches yearly. The Ingersoll Watch Company also has an enormous production. The International Silver Company is a successor of the original Rogers Brothers. Copper coins for South American countries and blanks for United States nickels are manufactured there. On East Main Street is the Crosby School. Southington Mountain contains the Waterbury Reservoir. Manufactures: Brass, copper, German silverware, pins, wire, clocks and watches. 

Waterbury was populated by successive waves of immigrants, primarily from Italy, Ireland, Eastern Europe and Great Britain. By 1930, nearly half of Waterbury’s population was foreign born. It was a city of close-knit, ethnic neighborhoods, where many residents remained their entire lives. Families packed into triple-decker homes, factory row housing and boarding houses, surrounding lively commercial districts with ethnic markets and bakeries, churches and movie houses. The city, like the rest of the country, endured hard times during the Great Depression, as industries imploded and thousands were thrown out of work.  


But all that changed when America began to gear up for World War II, and local factories retooled for war production. The Mattatuck Manufacturing Company switched from making upholstery nails to cartridge clips for the Springfield rifle, and soon was turning out three million clips a week. The American Brass Company made more than two billion pounds of brass rods, sheets and tubes during the war. The Chase Brass and Copper Company made more than 50 million cartridge cases and mortar shells, more than a billion small caliber bullets and, eventually, components used in the atomic bomb. Scovill Manufacturing produced so many different military items, the Waterbury Republican reported, that “there wasn’t an American or British fighting man … who wasn’t dependent on [the company] for some part of the food, clothing, shelter and equipment that sustained [him] through the … struggle.”

Because of its concentration of war industries, Waterbury was believed to be a strategic bombing target for the German Luftwaffe. Waterbury Clock — which would later be known as Timex — built a new plant in 1942 to accommodate the military’s demands for mechanical time fuses and other aircraft and artillery equipment. The new factory was nestled among the Middlebury hills and could be flooded and covered with water in the event of an invasion. Its roof was painted with a tromp l’oeil mural of trees, water and grass to deceive enemy bombers. In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Waterbury hurriedly appointed air wardens to coordinate a local response to an air raid. The local barbers’ association volunteered to equip the city’s barbershops as first aid stations.

More than 12,000 men and 500 women from Waterbury served in the armed forces during the war; the mayor saw them all off at the railroad station. Each man received a prayer book and a carton of cigarettes, courtesy of the Shriners; 282 of those who served lost their lives.

The civilian men and women of Waterbury contributed to the war effort in hundreds of ways, large and small. War bonds were sold from “Liberty House,” set up in the middle of the town green on the site where similar bonds had been sold to help defeat Germany during the First World War, and local residents bought $270 million worth. They also collected 68,500 pounds of rubber; 5,097,421 pounds of scrap metal; 8,255,640 pounds of paper; and 150 tons of waste fat.

The end of the war spelled the beginning of a sharp decline of Waterbury’s manufacturing base. Military contracts were cancelled in the months leading up to the Allied victory; within a week of V-J Day, 10,200 employees had been let go from Waterbury factories. Many would be rehired when the factories re-tooled for civilian production, but thousands of jobs were permanently lost. By the 1950s, plastic and aluminum had replaced brass for many uses, and cheaper labor overseas competed for the remaining jobs in brass manufacturing.


By 1980, there were fewer than 5,000 workers remaining in the Naugatuck Valley’s brass plants, and Connecticut Magazine described Waterbury as "a dying city". The Brass City hit bottom in 1992, when Money Magazine rated the quality of life in 300 U.S. metropolitan areas and declared Waterbury number 300—the worst. Waterbury closed out the 20th Century by being named “one of the 10 worst places to live in America” in the 1999 Places Rated Almanac. 




Waterbury's first City Hall opened facing the green, between Leavenworth and Lewis Streets




Waterbury's first telephones installed (wires run between Dr. Charles Rodman's office at Waterbury National Bank to his home on Prospect Street)


 23 Oct 1884


The Soldiers Monument was unveiled at the west end of the green


 12 Mar 1888


The 'Blizzard of 88' hits Connecticut and blankets Waterbury with 50 inches of snow in a 48-hour period




A devastating fire destroys the center of Waterbury




Waterbury City Hall burned to the ground




The new City Hall on Grand Street, designed by Cass Gilbert, is dedicated




Waterbury is among the hardest hit cities in the state, with more than 1,200 deaths reported due to an influenza epidemic




The Republican-American is awarded the Pulitzer Gold Medal (joining just 2 other New England papers - Boston Post, 1921 and the Boston Globe in 1966)


 19 Aug 1955


The great flood of '55 is one of the most devastating natural events ever recorded in the history of Waterbury


 Nov 1960


U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy visits the city as part of his presidential campaign and is greeted by a crowd of 40,000 on The Green

Before you start the tour, test your knowledge of the Brass City by answering these questions: 

  • What kind of "funny business" went on downtown for over forty years?
  • What was the name of the large downtown market on East Main Street in the 1950s?
  • What and where was the Abrigador?
  • What caused the demise of downtown Waterbury in the 1970s?
  • What was the name of the movie that had its world premiere in Waterbury in 1955?
  • What?s TV star sang about Waterbury in a Broadway musical?
  • What building has been Waterbury’s “Civic Center” since the 1930s?
  • What brass manufacturer also had a line of Waterbury Cameras in the early 1900s?
  • What famous cartoon character has a connection to Waterbury?
  • What was Waterbury’s most elegant neighborhood in the early 1900s?
  • Who were Waterbury’s top three employers from 1900 to 1960?
  • Where was this "amusement resort" located?


The answers to these burning questions are provided at appropriate points on the tour.                             


      Click for Waterbury, Connecticut Forecast




(The temperature shown on this thermometer is not accurate because it's concrete)




Here is your official tour memento: a handy 1950 - 1977 pocket calendar

compliments of The American Brass Company, one of Waterbury's "Big Three".

(Some of the images on this site reside on one of my photo storage sites or another website, and will not display if the source site is down. When this occurs, you will see a box with an X instead of the image.)

We proudly serve Waterbury's most famous beverages








including the beer and ale that made The Brass City famous











and Brock-Hall "flavor-rich" milk from amber bottles that provide full flavor protection.






We will be taking off as soon as the beer & ale is on board

Pre-takeoff briefing: You are advised to stay with your tour group by following the links on the bottom of each page. We can not be held responsible if you get hopelessly lost by leaving the tour group. All side tours will open in a new window, so you can close that window when you are done to return to the tour where you left.

And if you see this sign from the past on your tour, ignore it if you like your life in the present.



The Waterbury Time Machine is ready for your trip to the past. Click here to start your tour



If you prefer to view vintage images of particular areas of Waterbury rather than take the entire tour, click on the appropriate link(s) below. Each of these pages will open in a new window, so you can close that window when you are done and return to this page.  

Downtown  Around the Green  More Downtown (E. Main St.)  Uptown  Big3 

West Side   Out East   North End   South End  Washington Hill 

Out Of Town (Surrounding Towns) 

1955 Flood Photos     Waterbury Radio    Waterbury TV     Waterbury Theaters

Brass City Memories     Waterbury Time Machine Tour Guestbook 

Waterbury History Publications

 3/15/10 Brass City Past-Blast: Vintage Waterbury News, Photos, & Ads